We've all been there. Your perfectly behaved, well-mannered dog seems to have amnesia because he refuses to follow any of your commands.
So why do trained dogs go off the rails? Read this list of some of the most common training sabotages so that they won’t happen to you, and if they do, you’ll know how to respond:
Oh, Those Teenagers!
Like humans, dogs experience a defiant adolescent phase—more specifically, the age from 5 months through 18 months. Not all dogs go through this, and some go through it for only a month. Others will be in that “I know better than you” age for a long time. But during this time, you should expect to see some sort of rebellion in your dog, no matter how small that rebellion may be. By teaching new commands clearly and staying consistent, you can minimize the effects of adolescence on your training. For instance, “Come” today cannot be “Commere” tomorrow and “Get Over Here Right Now” the following day.
Another reason that training breaks down is that you haven’t trained thoroughly enough so that your dog completely understands the criteria for each command. Your dog comes to you when you call him in your living room when the two of you are alone? Well, unless you live on a deserted island, that’s not good enough. And if that’s the only time your dog comes to you, will you really be that shocked when he goes racing after another dog and doesn’t return when you call? If you are frustrated that their dog won’t come the first time you call, think about it: do you usually say the command about five times before you get up to enforce it? That’s not fair to the dog. When you’re setting up a training session, make sure your dog understands all the ins and outs of the commands and exactly what is expected of him.
Often, a break in training is due to the fact that the training has been breaking down an inch at a time for a while now and you hadn’t seen it or done anything about it. Do you notice when a picture hanging on your wall is a tiny bit crooked, or do you not notice it until it’s hanging off the nail? Dog training is like that. Pay attention to when your dog responds slowly to a command, and address it immediately instead of waiting until he won’t do the command at all. It’s far better to fix a slow response to a command on a leash during a training session than to realize it when your dog is in the middle of the road chasing a squirrel.
Sometimes people just become lax in their training. They do the same commands, in the same places, and at the same time of day, and their dog becomes bored. Can you blame him? To keep it interesting, make a list of every command your dog knows, and put each one on an index card. Every day, pull a few cards out and make those your training goals for the day. If your dog does a great job, the card goes into the discard pile until next week. If he needs more help, shuffle the card into the main deck. In addition, look at the games you play with your dog during a training session (you do play games with him during your training sessions, right?) and change them up, too.
Having trouble with training? Experts at the GoodDog! Helpline are just a phone call away.
Originally published in the "Training and Behavior" column of AKC Family Dog.